It's safe to say that for old school gamers like myself the transition from PS4/XBONE to PS5/Xbox Series has been unique among console generations. To put it simply, we've never seen the lines between generations blurred to the extent they are now nor for as long as they have been. We are coming up on the 4th year the newer consoles have been out and we're still seeing big games being released and even announced in the future for the older consoles. I'm not just talking indies and 2D stuff but games like Street Fighter, Armored Core, and The Crew: Motorfest. Games that try to push the boundaries of modern graphics but can still run, though not always well, on hardware that is nearly 10 years old. It would be like if PlayStation 2 launch games also had SNES versions, just a crazy idea that shows how much hardware development has slowed down.
Further complicating things is backwards compatibility. Not only do the old machines run many of the games on the new machines but the new machines run virtually the entire library for the older ones. This has led to the odd situation where some new games ONLY come out on Xbox One and PS4 because those versions will work fine on the newer machines, and if you're making an indie game with 2D graphics or simple polygons that run flawlessly on something like the Switch there's not much point in making a PS5 specific version when a PS4 version will work just as well.
Except that companies are doing that too.
Now when it comes to new games I kind of understand it. It seems a little weird to release a game on PS4 only in 2023, and with modern game engines and publishing tools it is not a lot of work to also produce a PS5 version alongside it. I don't know the exact cost but I can't imagine it's much at all. And of course when it comes to older high budget games that pushed the PS4 it can also make sense. Often there are higher fidelity assets already made for the PC version that can be slotted in easily enough, but even if there aren't you can at least gussy things up with faster loading times, better frame rates, or some Dualsense gimmicks and maybe try to squeeze a few new sales out or at least get people talking about a franchise with a new release on the horizon, as a form of marketing.
But what I don't understand is when games where the PS4 version was running great get a new PS5 version that frequently seems to do...nothing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge launched only for PS4 on the PlayStation family of systems. It then later got a PS5 port that added...nothing. Seriously, the developers admitted that literally nothing was upgraded in the game. It was just a version that could not run on PS4. And it wasn't even a free upgrade, you had to pay full price if you wanted to get the PS5 version (though now it has become a free upgrade for owners of the PS4 version.)
Why does this exist?
And it's not the only game like this. There are a fair number of titles, including older titles, that got the same treatment. Again I am not talking about games where the PS5 version is better in some way, even if it's just faster loading times or some Dualsense nonsense. That makes sense, of course. I'm talking about games where they've added nothing at all. And there are a fair number of them. From FMV games like The Late Shift to indie platformers like Rain World, there are a lot of these ports out there. I really did enjoy Night in the Woods but it never occurred to me in 2017 that I would need a new version. I now have Crimson Land on PS Vita, PS3, PS4 and PS5. That's a lot of Crimson Land!
I have a few theories as to the point of these versions. One is that some developers are just testing the PS5 publishing process with an older game because why not? If they intend to keep developing on PlayStation it makes sense to get familiar with the newest system.
Another is trophy stacks. There are some people so obsessed with trophies that they might be willing to buy a game twice to get trophies on two systems even if it's the same game, or if the PS5 upgrade is free they might be more interested in a game with 2 stacks than one with just 1.
There's also the though that maybe PS5 games just sell better because people think they have additional features or just subconsciously associate them with higher quality? I will admit that if given a choice between PS4 and PS5 versions I often go with PS5 even though for my purposes PS4 is probably better because I have my old PS4 hooked up in another room and sometimes like to play things on both systems. I have gotten a bit better about that though.
Is it possible there are people who don't know about PS5's backwards compatibility? That seems kind of unlikely to me but I guess there may be some?
My final thought is that maybe releasing a PS5 version is a way to get a bit more attention and also get back on the "new releases" lists on PSN for a few extra sales. The trailer for Shantae, Risky's Revenge on PS5 hints towards this. It features absolutely zero new benefits for the PS5 version except it's...on PS5. To me that suggests that it's just a chance to drop another trailer and get a tiny bit more attention for what may be a practically free conversion.
Anyway it's just something that bugs/interests me. On occasion I see a random "Free" PS5 version of a PS4 game I already own and I invariably grab it even though I will probably never play it since saves between PS4 and PS5 versions are not compatible and I don't really like multiple trophy stacks of the same game (though I will put up with them for an actual upgrade to a better version, especially if there is a way to transfer the save.) I just always wonder what made a developer want to put any time into making a specialized version of a game for a console that game already runs on just as well as the new version, and then frequently give away that new redundant version to people who already bought the first version. How is this profitable?